Research Horizons is the University of Cambridge’s research magazine. 

Foreword from the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research: 

Welcome to the 36th issue of Research Horizons, in which we focus on the topic of ‘work’ (download a pdf; view on Issuu).

Work shapes people’s identity and the nation’s prosperity. ‘Good’ work gives citizens security, self-worth and respect, a route to social mobility and, for some, the chance to turn ideas into innovations. For a country, this contributes to a healthier population, increasing productivity, better living standards and the development of skills that drive economic growth. 

Good work sounds a simple enough concept to strive towards, but the world of work is continually being buffeted by political, societal and economic forces. New technologies, demographics, free markets, gender pay gaps, zero-hours contracts, ‘gig economies’: all of these are shaping and reshaping how we work, while the labour market continues to feel the impact of the global financial crisis and faces the uncertainties of Brexit. Given these complexities, how can we make the most of our ‘human capital’ for the success of individuals and the country? This question lies at the heart of the Spotlight section of this edition of Research Horizons. 

Researchers in the University are working with policymakers and businesses to ask questions about productivity, wellbeing and gender parity. They are interrogating vast datasets – in one case, 44 years of labour laws spanning 117 nations, in another the educational achievements of three million schoolchildren per year – to understand, respectively, the balance between having a free economy and safeguarding workers’ rights, and the links between education and the labour market. Researchers are also looking to the future, to ask what impact will this new age of artificial intelligence and robotics have on our jobs. 

Elsewhere in this varied edition, we learn how research at a newly opened Eating Behaviour Unit will help us to understand the food choices we make. We discover the latest news about the most detailed map of our galaxy ever created. And we meet a PhD student whose fieldwork on seals takes her to the island of Robinson Crusoe and the 80-year-old ‘King of Scuttle Flies’ who continues to discover new species. 

We hope you enjoy these and other articles this issue. 

Professor Chris Abell 

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research 

Image credit: Christopher Burns